Dental Assistant FAQs

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What are dental assistant duties?

Dental assistants primarily prepare patient rooms for dental examination and treatment, seat patients, help ensure patient comfort, assist the dentist with exams and treatments, escort patients back to the front desk, and communicate with the front desk about the care the patient received and the next type of appointment to be scheduled. They also sterilize instruments, assist with patient record keeping, facilitate communication between the front administrative office and clinical back office to provide smooth and comfortable patient experiences. Dental assistants are required to achieve their tasks accurately and efficiently, so patient appointments can stay on schedule and the dental practice can provide a high standard of care.
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Are dental assistants health care workers?

Yes, dental assistants are health care workers, who assist dentists. The duties they perform vary from state to state, but primarily, they are responsible for sanitizing treatment rooms and equipment between patients, preparing treatment rooms for each patient’s visit, escorting patients, helping patients feel valued and comfortable, and assisting the dentist throughout examinations and treatment procedures.

Are dental assistants essential workers?

Dentistry is essential health care, and dental assistants are essential health care workers who were permitted to receive the COVID-19 vaccination during Phase I of vaccination.

Are dental assistants and dental hygienists the same?

Dental assistants and dental hygienists have different duties within a dental practice, educational requirements, and licensing. Dental assistants assist dentists while dentists are preparing to perform and performing dental procedures. Dental assistants also perform limited procedures such as taking blood pressure, taking x-rays and photos, and making impressions. Hygienists complete a higher level of training and are licensed to clean and polish teeth, examine teeth and gums, collect information about the patient’s oral and medical health history, and chart oral health conditions for the dentist to examine. They are trained to administer local anesthetics, remove sutures and dressings, apply preventive treatments such as fluoride and sealants, and do deep cleaning (root planing and scaling).
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View dental hygienist job responsibilities.

Are dental assistants in demand?

Dental assistants are in high demand. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected that employment of dental assistants will grow 7 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations. If you like working with people, are interested in dental care, and would like to have a career in dentistry, dental assisting training and licensing are relatively easy to achieve and will provide you with opportunities for full-time and part-time employment.
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How many days a week do dental assistants work?

There is high demand for both part-time and full-time dental receptionists. Schedules vary by the needs of the practice, including business day, weekend, and evening hours. In DentalPost’s 2021 Salary Survey, the majority of dental assistants reported working 36 to 40 hours per week and being paid hourly.

How much does a dental assistant make?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the national median salary for dental assistants in 2020 was $42,310. DentalPost’s 2021 Salary Survey indicates the majority of Dental Assistants earned between $31,000 and $40,000 in 2020. Twenty-eight % earned below $30,000 per year, and slightly more than 10% of Dental Assistants were paid $50,000 or more annually. This wide range of income is reflective of multiple factors: education, years of experience, advanced certification, responsibilities, the profitability of the dental practice, and local demand for dental assistants. In general, dental assistants earn the most money in large cities such as San Francisco, Minneapolis, Boston, Atlanta, Dallas, and Miami. The five states where dental assistants earned the highest annual wages in 2020 are Minnesota, Massachusetts, Alaska, New Hampshire, and Oregon.
View average dental assistant salaries and hourly rates by state.

Do dental assistants get benefits?

Some employers provide benefits to dental assistants. These benefits may include health insurance, dental treatment at a reduced cost, life and disability insurance, and retirement plans. An employer may provide some but not all these traditional employee benefits. Dental service organizations (DSOs) with many employees offer the most robust employee benefits packages.

Does being a dental assistant require a degree?

Though some states do not require dental assistants to have any type of training or education beyond a high school diploma, others require job candidates to get certification from an accredited program. The recommended way to pursue this career path is to complete an accredited program in dental assisting. The American Dental Association’s Commission on Dental Accreditation provides a comprehensive list of these programs. Most dental assisting programs take 9-11 months to complete and lead to a diploma or certificate. There also are 2-year Associate degree programs in dental assisting.

Where do I find schools that have dental assistant programs?

The recommended way to pursue a career path as a dental assistant is to complete an accredited program in dental assisting. The American Dental Association’s Commission on Dental Accreditation provides a comprehensive list of these programs.
View more information about dental assisting schools.

What does it cost to go to dental assisting school?

The tuition fee per credit hour varies on whether the program is financially supported by the local government, for example, in community colleges, or is part of a private college. Depending on the programs available to you in your state, you might spend under $1,000 in tuition on a 6-month certification program and over $7,000 for a 2-year Associate degree. In addition to tuition, you should anticipate additional costs for course registration, lab fees, books, and supplies.

What is a dental assistant’s career path?

Dental assistants can achieve expanded duties certification in their state to perform more duties. They learn a lot about dentistry and dental practice management through their employment as a dental assistant that can lead them to pursue careers as hygienists, dentists, dental administrators, dental lab technicians, dental equipment technicians and salespeople, dental software trainers, dental practice management consultants, public educators, dental writers, dental marketers, and more.
View more information about a dental assistant’s career path.

Are dental assistants licensed?

The term “license” means a government organization gives time-limited permission to an individual to engage in a given occupation after verifying that the individual has met predetermined and standardized criteria. The licensure of dental assistants varies from state to state. It is up to each state’s Board of Dental Examiners to determine which duties dental assistants can perform and the training certification and registration required to do so. The state’s Board of Dental Examiners also determines how often a dental assistant needs to renew their certification and registration. Each state’s requirements can be found on the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) website.

What is the difference between an RDA and a CDA?

Registered dental assistants (RDAs) pass state-specific requirements, which vary from state to state. Some states require certification through the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). Dental assistants who pass the DANB exams are certified dental assistants (CDAs). Some dental assistants register in their state and also pursue national certification through the DANB, becoming both an RDA and a CDA. CDA certification may make it faster and easier to become registered in a new state. Learn more about the difference between RDAs and CDAs.

Are dental assistants certified?

The term “certification” refers to the process of demonstrating the achievement of a standardized level of knowledge and skills required for a profession. It is up to each state’s Board of Dental Examiners to determine which duties dental assistants can perform and the training, certification, and registration required to do so. Each state’s requirements can be found on the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) website.

Does a dental assistant’s certification expire?

The state’s Board of Dental Examiners determines how often a dental assistant needs to renew certification of training and registration. Some states mandate annual certification, others do it in 2-year and 3-year intervals. Dental assistants who pass the Dental Assisting National Board exams must renew their CDA credential every 3 years to remain a Certified Dental Assistant.

What does a dental assistant wear?

A 2018 survey by the American Dental Association (ADA) found that 66% of dental practices require staff members to wear scrubs for work. Another 31% had some other version of a practice-specific dress code. The majority of respondents said requiring scrubs simplifies things for staff, helps prevent inappropriate dress, promotes team unity, and promotes the brand imaging of the practice. 

When is Dental Assistant Week?

The American Dental Assistants Association has designated the first week of March as Dental Assistants Recognition Week (DARW). This is a special week to recognize the hard work and contributions of dental assistants. View the calendar of National Dental Holidays.

Why are dental assistants important?

Dental assistants are essential to the smooth running of a dental practice. They are attentive to patient and team needs such as comforting patients and assisting the dentist to perform clinical procedures and record health information. They support a productive schedule by communicating critical information about patients to other team members, performing their technical tasks with efficiency, and having influential conversations with patients to motivate scheduling of the recommended treatment. They also keep patients and team members safe by monitoring and performing infection control procedures, such as instrument and operatory sterilization. They are with patients throughout the patient experience and have a positive impact on how the patient feels about that experience.
View more information about dental assistants’ impact on dental practices.

Can dental assistants have tattoos?

Some employers enforce a no visible tattoo policy because they do not want to offend the conservative population of the dental practice. They have a legal right to do this. More dental assistants with tattoos are employed than were in the past. Read 10 helpful tips for job seekers.

Do dental assistants get drug tested?

State laws on drug testing vary. Depending on state regulations, a dental assistant might be drug tested prior to hiring or if the employer suspects the employee has symptoms of drug or alcohol use that could or has interfered with performance or could or has caused harm to others. In some states, a documented drug-free workplace is permitted to do periodic or random drug testing.

Can dental assistants polish teeth?

In some states, dental assistants can use rubber cup prophy (i.e., perform coronal polishing) on primary dentition upon completing a curriculum approved by the State Board of Dentistry or a minimum number of hours of on-the-job training.

Each state’s Board of Dental Examiners determines which duties dental assistants can perform and the training certification and registration required to do so. Each state’s requirements can be found on the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) website. In some states, dental assistants with the proper training and certification may perform coronal polishing.

State regulations in Georgia allow a dental assistant to use rubber cup prophy (i.e., perform coronal polishing) on primary dentition after completing a curriculum approved by the Georgia Board of Dentistry or a minimum of eight hours of on-the-job training in the provision of rubber cup prophies by a dentist licensed to practice in Georgia.

Can dental assistants clean teeth?

Each state’s Board of Dental Examiners determines which duties dental assistants can perform and the training certification and registration required to do so. Each state’s most current requirements can be found on the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) website. In some states, expanded function dental assistants (EFDAs) with the proper training may perform coronal polishing and coronal scaling (above the gum line). This is not the same as doing a prophylaxis dental cleaning and probing gum tissue. Only dentists and dental hygienists can perform these functions.

Can dental assistants scale teeth?

Each state’s Board of Dental Examiners determines which duties dental assistants can perform and the training certification and registration required to do so. Each state’s requirements can be found on the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) website. In some states, expanded function dental assistants (EFDAs) with the proper training may perform coronal scaling above the gum line.

Can dental assistants administer nitrous oxide?

Each state’s Board of Dental Examiners determines which duties dental assistants can perform and the training certification and registration required to do so. Each state’s requirements can be found on the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) website. In some states, expanded function dental assistants (EFDAs) with the proper training may assist the dentist in administering and/or monitoring nitrous oxide.

Can dental assistants take final impressions?

Each state’s Board of Dental Examiners determines which duties dental assistants can perform and the training certification and registration required to do so. Each state’s requirements can be found on the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) website. In some states, expanded function dental assistants (EFDAs) with the proper training may take final impressions.

Can dental assistants do dental fillings?

Each state’s Board of Dental Examiners determines which duties dental assistants can perform and the training certification and registration required to do so. Each state’s requirements can be found on the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) website. In some states, expanded function dental assistants (EFDAs) may place, sculpt, and polish a filling after the dentist has prepared the tooth. The dentist then checks the filling before the patient leaves the dental office.

Can dental assistants whiten teeth?

Each state’s Board of Dental Examiners determines which duties dental assistants can perform and the training certification and registration required to do so. Each state’s requirements can be found on the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) website. In some states, registered dental assistants, under the supervision of a dentist, can apply bleaching agents and activate bleaching agents with a non-laser light-curing device.

Should dental assistants wear N95 masks?

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-approved N95 face masks are recommended during the COVID-19 pandemic because alternatives do not or may not provide as much protection, particularly against small particle aerosols. During the COVID-19 pandemic, OSHA recommends all dental team members wear N95 face masks, and when considering N95 alternatives, check to ensure that they are NIOSH-approved.

Should dental assistants be immunized against COVID-19?

Dental assistants were permitted to receive the COVID-19 vaccine during Phase 1 of vaccination. Those returning to work during the pandemic can be vaccinated now if they have not already been vaccinated. Because dental assistants are at increased risk of exposure to aerosol particles, it is recommended that they be vaccinated unless their medical doctor has recommended otherwise due to special medical conditions. Go to the ADA COVID-19 vaccination update for dental employees here.

What immunizations do dental assistants need?

In addition to COVID-19 vaccination, it is recommended that dental assistants be immunized against influenza, hepatitis B, measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough, pneumonia, and chickenpox. State laws govern the vaccination requirements of healthcare workers and vary state by state.